Column: Rugby league need to embrace Jamaica

Drew Darbyshire

Jamaica qualifying for the World Cup could be one of the best things to happen to international rugby league – but a lot of work needs to be done.

The Reggae Warriors won the 2018 Americas Championship last week after they beat Canada and favourites USA over in Jacksonville, Florida.

Jermaine Coleman’s side boasted a very strong squad this year, having Leeds Rhinos full-back Ashton Golding, London Broncos utility-back Jacob Ogden and Wakefield Trinity winger Ben Jones-Bishop at their disposal.

But they had strength throughout, with Championship stars Joel Farrell, Ross Peltier, James Woodburn-Hall and Jon Magrin also representing their heritage.

It’s an amazing feel-good story.

But everyone in the rugby league community needs to get behind it. It’s certainly a great story for the expansionists of our game, with Jamaica becoming the first-ever Caribbean nation to qualify for the tournament.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Jamaica though. Director of rugby Romeo Monteith’s story of just how difficult has been to get the country to this point is inspirational.

He has sacrificed a great amount to get the Reggae Warriors on the rugby league map, and that’s with very little funding.

The Jamaica players had to self-fund their trip to Florida and spent approximately £1,000 in total on the trip. It’s a heart-warming story which shows just how much family heritage means to people.

It takes no Sherlock to realise that Jamaica need to be playing games regularly though – not only to keep their momentum going, but to build up an audience and attract potential sponsors.

There are a lot of Jamaican communities in England, particularly in the Yorkshire, Lancashire, Manchester, Liverpool and London regions.

There is an enormous Jamaican population in the capital, so it is vital chance for rugby league to grow internationally and at club level.

There are several Jamaican representatives who play for London Skolars in League 1 and there is Ogden, of course, who plays in Super League with London Broncos.

Rugby league could attract them Jamaican communities into our game for the World Cup and not only would it boost attendance figures, but it could bring brand new faces into our sport as well.

Jamaica reaching the World Cup is massive, so let’s make a big deal about it and not palm it off. Let’s be realistic, we aren’t saying they will win the World Cup – but we are saying let’s get support them because they could help boot the international scene on and off the field.

Why not have Jamaica playing Ireland in London in the build-up to the World Cup? Or join them up as double headers along with England games?

Jamaica will be everyone’s favourite second team. We need to embrace them, and hopefully Jamaica will have a part to play in rugby league for years to come.